1. USA (5-0)
5. Nigeria (1-4)
6. Tunisia (0-5).
BiE’s taking Team USA to run the table for a few reasons … foremost is, that under Coach K, this team is undefeated in international pool and friendly play. On a day-to-day basis, Krzyzewski successfully motivates his Americans to do the extras that make up for what are, despite a wealth of talent, the team’s shortcomings: making the extra pass, protecting the offensive glass, finding the weaknesses in a European zone defense.
Compelling reason #2: A fairly reasonable schedule. Team USA tips it off today against what BiE considers to be an overrated France side, then gets games against the two African squads. Game four looks like a classic trap game scenario, with a 3-0 and cruising Yankee side meeting the talented and fearless Lithuanian side in a near must-win game; Lietuva starts with a gamut of Argentina-Nigeria-France, which reasonably puts them at 2-1 or 1-2, either way gunning hard against Team USA for favorable seeding. Despite an advantage in size (and maybe even experience, with Saras running things), however, the US should take this game – as long as they don’t go to sleep on the Lithuanians and particularly scary-good international Jonas Valanciunas.
The final game pits Team USA against Argentina, who demonstrated that they can give the US a game but is running with quite the thin roster: Possibly a key factor that tips the advantage to Team USA enough for at least another six-point win.
And oh, they’ve got Lebron James. In short, BiE goes with the odds on the NBAers.
As for Teams Nigeria and Tunisia … in this 20th anniversary year of Dream Team et al, it really feels strange to be missing Angola: Stretching back to 1990, Team Angola had represented Africa in nine of 10 FIBA Worlds and Olympic Games; they’d also taken 10 of the previous 11 African Championships before suffering the upset to Tunisia in the 2011 finals.
In any case, does anyone expect good results from the African sides in ’12?
Now here’s where it gets difficult; you’ve got to believe at least one “upset” will go down among the group-within-a-group of Argentina, France and Lithuania. All are quality sides with strong nuclei that have earned a few caps with one another: Argentina has Ginobili/Scola/Delfino as a core with long-timers Andres Nocioni and Pablo Prigioni aboard; France returns most of its 2010 FIBA Worlds/2011 Eurobasket group in Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Nando de Colo, Boris Diaw, Mickael Gelabale, Florent Pietrus and Ali Traore (but not, of course, Joakim Noah); and while Team Lithuania may appear a bit patchwork, its entire roster excepting Antanas Kavaliauskas has played internationally before.Argentina would appear to be the favorites for the no. 2 spot simply based on the nice game played against Team USA … but then there’s the blowout loss to Spain* of two days prior. France may overcome the loss of Noah (though BiE doubts it), yet nevertheless opens with a run of USA-Argentina-Lithuania, one of the tournament’s tougher draws. And Lithuania, the X factor…
Right, so here it is. BiE gazes into the Official BallinEurope crystal ball to go with Argentina over Lithuania today; France over Argentina in a small-ball struggle in game two; and Lithuania surprising France in game three, making the Fearlessly Predicted marks as the following.
And if you think BiE’ll hedge on the tiebreakers, forget it. These Predictions may be Fearless, but they ain’t *that* Fearless.